I haven’t been able to get this talk out of my head. Embrace the suck. It’s like a mantra. It makes me see all the places in my life where I’m avoiding the suck instead of embracing it. Though Roshi is talking about practice in a formal way, these concepts fill the fullness of our dharma practice aka our life. Enjoy.
When Louis C.K. talks, I listen. He is a wise curmudgeon handing out as many truths as he does laughs. A few weeks ago, an interview with Louis that aired on Conan began circling the internet ending up on many Facebook posts and even a few Buddhist Blogger websites. In the clip, Louis talks about kids, texting, and the void we all attempt to fill when we are ticking back to our “smart” devices. Truth has a profound impact on me and when I hear it I’m floored for weeks. When Louie described letting himself cry in his car listening to a touching Bruce Springsteen song instead of avoiding his sadness, it hit me hard. Suddenly I could see all my vices and tricks of avoidance for what they were: distractions and filler to avoid being here. I thought about food, and sex and my internal monologue and saw how often I felt the need to fill the gaps of vast emptiness before me (and mind you, the “vastness” is mere milliseconds of time. Poor me). How often had I lived in fear of the empty moment?
or the sad moment?
or the angry moment?
who or what had I missed?
So for a while, I shifted my attitude. I let things get to me without scrambling away to distraction. But, just as every diet has a relapse, I fell back into familiar patterns. Old justifications. Like the valley of a wave. But the great part about being in the valley of a wave is that there are peaks ahead and peaks behind and still water…somewhere.
So thanks Louis.
For my girls (which means for me and my wife as well) summer has come to a close. Tomorrow they go back to “school”. The summer of 3 and 4 has been unexpectedly more fun than I thought it would be. We were free from schedules, the TV collected dust (for the most part), and the girls had the time to learn to be sisters. Every day was filled with something to do while never feeling rushed.
Tonight as the dusky sky inches into night and the girls lay in bed waiting to fall asleep, I have a tinge of that end of summer feeling I would always get on the last day of summer. The FINALE. The bittersweet sinking feeling of the turning of a page. I don’t remember much about being 3 or 4, but I imagine the feeling universal and sinks in more and more each summer. I know that Ruby could feel it tonight and that it will hit Gertie tomorrow when she gets there. It makes you just want to hold them tight and tell them that everything will be alright. That we all have this happen and everything will be OK. That it’s normal.
But we know better.
Because words can’t always mend a broken heart and it’s heartbreaking to part with summer.
Tomorrow will be here soon enough. The breakup with summer will be final. We’ll exchange our stuff saying goodbye to beachballs and sandboxes. We’ll board up the playhouse together and amicably give up the picnic table but insist on keeping the fire pit for the fall. We’ll give each other a final glance as we part, giving a wave as we walk away.
If summer hasn’t ended for you please do your part. Take it all in. For me. For Emily. For Ruby. And for Gertie. We will remember ours fondly.
I had a list. A list I didn’t realize I had or rather, a list I hadn’t formulated on pen and paper. It was a list of all the things I aspired to do. Blog. Paint. Get a Master’s degree. Write children’s’ stories. Learn my ukulele. All of these aspirations would come to me randomly. When I’d forget about one (which often happened since work and family take up most of my time) it was as if I hadn’t thought about it for years because I’d been busy thinking about the other aspirations on the list. The effect of having a tall order, I guess. And because I had so many plates spinning in my head, I always felt I was failing all of them because I never directed enough steady attention to them to get them done. I was perpetually waiting to get my act together.
But the other day on my way to work, I listened to a talk given by Nyogen Roshi from the Hazy Moon Zen Center. He was speaking to a group about to start a weekend Sesshin and though the recording wasn’t from the Sesshin that I attended last summer, his words and advice drifted over me like a forgotten cool breeze. He said that in Sesshin we should “”Just sit down and commit yourself to being terribly ordinary.” Nothing special. Ordinary Ben, I thought. Nothing special.
And the thought of being nothing special was such a relief. I felt free. I didn’t know it, but the tall stack I had put on myself was weighing me down. Striving for my ambitions was in fact stifling them.
I had a list and I didn’t know it. And now that I do know, I can stop the fretting. I can remind myself that I’m just ordinary Ben, nothing special.
Thank you, Roshi.
It started early. Around 5:08AM. I heard it. The stir. The stir that usually leads to the THUMP THUMP of flopping feet not yet accustomed to the proper etiquette of getting out of bed quietly as to not disturb anyone else. Those feet three and feet four hadn’t made their entrance to stare at me inches from my face. It was only the stir.
But even though I wasn’t fully awake, I immediately went into full on NO!!! mode. Triggered by the gripping fear of somehow losing control of my day, my head space put up a defensive block with plans on stiff arming anything that came my way. As long as I kept everything at arms length until….sometime… when I was ready, my day would work out the way I wanted to. I had plans! I had plans to start my day and those plans DID NOT go into effect until the 5:15 alarm or the possible subsequent 5:20 snooze alarm!
Sleep was ruined with tinges of panic, so I got up, tiptoed down the hall following the well worn, squeak-free path I had established at feet four’s birth (thankfully, no thuds.YET). I reached the basement stairs and descended into the darkness (NO LIGHTS. They sense lights like smells). Walking past the TV room to our laundry/kids library/meditation room, I turned on the lights, lit my candle, set my timer, bowed, and took my seat.
I sat in Zazen still gripped with fear. Listening. Waiting. Waiting for them to sneak around the corner and startle me thus ruining my meditation session and thus ruining the rest of my planned out day. I waited impatiently for the timer to go off so I could be done before their feet touched the floor.
I’ve become fascinated by the depiction of Bodhidharma so I did a quick sketch of him today. This is what you may look like after you stared at a wall for nine years!
I sat across from Ruby as she was coloring. She was home sick, again, but for a couple of hours she was her normal four year old self aided by a measured dose of children’s Tylenol. She intricatley colored the squares that made up the palm tree frame of her Alvin and the Chipmunks coloring page taking the time to switch out her crayon after each box was filled. She didn’t used to do that. It used to be scrawling swatches of color that would have somehow perverted the innocent Disney portrait of a princess had it not been rendered by a three year old. But she had progressed from that. She had moved on to careful detail.
As for me, I lingered somewhere between my own coloring page assignment and random checks to my smartphone to see if something, anything had progressed in my “digital life”. It hadn’t. But I kept checking anyway promising myself each time that this was the last time.
When she was finished with her border, she got down from her chair and scrambled over to me to show me the fruits of her labor.
“Look!” Ruby shouted scrolling her finger down the multicolored columns that lined Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. I looked over at her as she smiled, surveying her success. And as I looked at her darting pale blue eyes, her gentle smile across her lips, I realized that I hadn’t seen Ruby all day. I looked in her direction, I gave her hugs, made her breakfast, but I hadn’t really SEEN her until that moment.
And it was like, “Oh.” And “Oh Yeah.” And it was sad and bittersweet. And had it been more my eyes may have welled up. My heart shuttered at my realization. There was something I had been missing out on right in front of me and nothing I was missing out on anywhere else.
“Look!” she yelled again.
“I see,” I said giving her a hug,”I see.”